They can release non-violent offenders on summary parole with no oversight, repeal the massive numbers of newly enacted felony sentencing laws, or build new prisons.
Almost nobody within the corrections and law enforcement community sees the early release program as a good option. It has been characterized as everything from "not good public policy" by Vacaville Police Chief Richard Ward to "an act of insanity" by Kern County District Attorney Edward Jagels (Thompson, 2008). While the author reports on research that indicates the program will not increase the crime rate, most crime experts feel otherwise. Most people interviewed for the article expressed the opinion that if the criminal community knows that that they will not be sent to prison, they will have no deterrent to committing a property crime.
California is in desperate need of prison reform. The article stated that there are currently 172,000 prisoners being housed in a system that was designed for 100,000 (Thompson, 2008). Releasing just 22,000 of these inmates would allow the state to make changes in the prison and jail building program and save additional money (Thompson, 2008). While this number would not ease the current overcrowding, it may relieve what Schwarzenegger calls "the federal courts breathing down our neck" (Thompson, 2008).
Thompson related the opinions of law enforcement personnel that believed there would be a marked increase in property crime if the program is enacted. Since local jails are already overcrowded, many criminals will be more willing to take their chances. Even one of the program's supporters Barry Krisberg, President of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, expressed some reservation about turning these criminals back out on the street with no rehabilitation and no support systems (Thompson, 2008). The article pointed out that just about everyone has at least some reservations about the early release program.
The author also pointed to the skepticism that the plan would even correct the overpopulation problem. According to Don Specter, director of the San Ramon-based Prison Law Office, the plan does not target the heart of the overcrowding problem and contends that the overcrowding problems are concentrated in the old high-security prisons where there would be very few inmates eligible for release (Thompson, 2008). He argues that the program would not have the effect that the department predicts.
The article effectively highlighted the hard realities facing the California prison system. Yet, it offered few good alternatives to the early release program. The early release of offenders could mean no prison time for auto theft, burglary, and drug dealers. In a society where prison is a deterrent to crime, I believe that there would be an increase in these crimes. In fact, criminals that are currently involved in this activity would not only continue to offend, they would spend more time on the street with the opportunity to commit more crimes. The combined forces of overcrowding, the federal government, and the budget shortfall have conspired to necessitate some kind of immediate action. Early release could ease the budget and overcrowding problem, but it would come at the cost of the security of the public.
A better approach would be to examine the 1,000 felony sentencing laws passed in California in the